There’s a cool new blog in the East Village… today!
What would happen if you took the neighborhood navel-gazing of an EV Grieve but replaced its fatalism with an attitude of “golly jeepers, today’s East Village sure is cool”? You’d have the East Village Today.
The blog just marked its six-month anniversary, but it launched so quietly that we only recently discovered it. The second we did, we needed to know: is it for real? and who the hell is behind it?
Like EV Grieve, the author of East Village Today is anonymous, and he’s obsessed with streetside minutiae (in EV Grieve’s case it might be a free iron on the sidewalk; in the case of East Village Today, a discarded cup of mayonnaise makes for a post titled “Abandoned Food”). But if EV Grieve is the jaded old-timer, East Village Today is the worst stereotype of a neighborhood newbie. Its mysterious author displays the naïveté of an NYU frosh, cluelessly dismissing institutions like Ray’s Candy Store (the owner should “clean the place up a bit”) and Rainbow Music (“Who wants to go digging through a bunch of CDs on the sidewalk?”) while beaming about Citi Bikes (“the vehicle-of-choice for many people”) and the widely reviled “Death Star” at 51 Astor (a “cool, new building that’s very reflecty”).
In stark contrast to the rage EV Grieve commenters voice toward NYU, the author of EVT believes the school’s Barney Building is “why the East Village is so cool,” and asks, “What better place than the East Village for an arts building?!”
Then there are the giddy generalizations, written as if in a letter home to mom: “East Villagers love street fairs,” “East Villagers love to wear all black,” “East Villagers love their artistic expression!”, “East Villagers love their dilapidation!”, “East Villagers love Halloween!” And, finally: “If there’s one thing East Villagers love, it’s chicken feet! Don’t ask me why!”
Needlessly to say, the blog displays none of EV Grieve’s nostalgia, though it does creep in on occasion. In a post titled “Today: A Great Sadness,” EVT mourns the closing of a fro-yo shop and notes that all East Villagers “have come to love their local Pinkberry.”
As I read all of this, I had to crack up. Months before Tina Fey’s new show introduced Kimmy Schmidt to the world, the author of this site had nailed the voice of the “basic” midwestern transplant who comes to New York brimming with over-the-top optimism. But was EVT meant to be satire, or is there really someone out there who thinks the opening of a New York Sports Club on Avenue A is a joyous excuse to quote a song by the “East Village People”?
To find out, I shot the blogger behind EV Today an email. He eventually gave me a call from a blocked number. I asked him what his name was and he said cryptically, “I’m not going to give you my name right now — maybe by the end of the interview.”
It remained to be seen whether he would reveal his identity, but here’s what he did tell me off the bat: EVT, as we’ll call him for now, is far from an NYU frosh. He’s 55 and he moved to New York in 1983, when the East Village was “really horrible,” he said. “I only came as far as Odessa, it wasn’t a place I wanted to live.” Far from being lured to the East Village by its grit, EVT has “always thought it was an overrated place.” Still, almost 14 years ago, he took an apartment in the neighborhood and he’s been there ever since.
EVT moved to New York with plans to be a writer, but ended up working in print production. He says he was always on the “outskirts” of hip scenes like punk rock, and he’s never been one to romanticize junkies or anarchists. “A lot of what people think was good about the area is sort of misanthropic,” he says in a way that doesn’t make “misanthropic” sound like a good thing.
Having been an amateur photographer since he was a kid, he took photos of the neighborhood and began uploading them to Flickr. He began channeling them into East Village Today after “seeing other news sites and blogs that I thought were too negative and so I kind of went pretty far in the other direction.” One of those sites, of course, was EV Grieve. “It’s a very negative site, and I think the commenters are really what make it as negative as it is,” EVT said.
He has a point. Yesterday, a commenter opining about the opening of the New York Sports Club wrote, in predictable fashion: “That building is the ugliest thing in the EV, hands down. What a perfect shame. People who pay them to jog on treadmills are assholes.”
At some point, EVT jumped into EV Grieve’s comments section and, in a clear act of trolling, peppered it with positivity. Take, for instance, the Grieve post about Facebook’s offices opening on Astor Place, complete with ping-pong table. A typical comment is followed by EVT’s:
The shiny-happy comments rubbed some the wrong way and eventually, EVT says, he was accused of being a bot and then, he believes, banned from commenting altogether. In a New Year’s Eve post titled “The Shunning of East Village Today,” he accuses EV Grieve of blocking him on Twitter, as well.
I reached out to EV Grieve, but he ignored questions about whether he had banned or blocked EVT, saying instead, “Here’s to a happy six-month anniversary to East Village Today.”
EVT also takes issue with Grieve’s closely guarded anonymity. “I think you should state who you are if you’re taking a position,” EVT said. “I don’t like anonymity.”
Grieve ignored questions about why, exactly, he chooses to remain anonymous despite the site’s often journalistic aspirations.
But what of East Village Today’s identity? EVT says he can get away with being anonymous because he doesn’t really take a position on anything. But he also admitted that he was nervous about having his somewhat “frivolous” blog associated with a more serious one he had authored.
In any case, he wasn’t that nervous. The day after we talked, he revealed his identity to me.
As it turns out, the author of East Village Today was once an EV Grieve contributor. His name is Steven Matthews. From 2010 to 2013, he sporadically sent in tips about storefront openings and street scenes, complete with photos showing his son. He also left comments. During that period, he maintained a blog, New York Occasional Photos, consisting of photographs accompanied by sometimes earnest, sometimes cheeky reflections on city life. In 2013, he began tangling with EV Grieve commenters who supported No 7-Eleven‘s efforts to squash a convenience store bound for Avenue A and East 11th Street. The comments on one post show just how tense things got between him and the organization’s founder Rob Hollander, who accused Matthews of evading him at an annual leftist conference where Matthews was volunteering.
Matthews eventually spun his ruminations about 7-Eleven, among other things, into a blog called Quilas.
“After seeing that there was no clear understanding of what gentrification is, or what fuels it, or even the of history of the ‘East Village,’ I decided to start this blog,” he wrote in an introductory post. Subsequent posts attacked No 7-Eleven with logic such as: “I agree that franchise store-fronts look bad, no matter which franchise it is. But I also know that the employees of franchises are paid more, and are more likely to qualify for health insurance benefits, have better safety regulations, and are in a position to organize, and that the employees of so-called Mom-and-Pop stores do not.” And: “It’s ridiculous that this effort is hailed as being in the ‘spirit of the East Village’. People in the ‘East Village’ organized to demand jobs, to demand affordable housing, to stop evictions. These people [behind No 7-Eleven] are organizing to stop overpriced stores from having to compete with 7-Eleven.” He also challenged the LES Dwellers and efforts to save the St. Mark’s Bookstore. The blog’s most recent post documents a 311 call he made complaining about Mud, “one of those local companies that ‘East Villagers’ love to love.”
As Matthews’s posts about such issues grew more drawn out, EV Grieve commenters accused him of being obsessive and contrarian. Hollander, who has long pondered gentrification on his own blog, Save the Lower East Side, observed, “You wrote a couple of days ago you can’t join NO711 because you have other projects, but you spend your time creating animations about NO711, cartoons about NO711 and me, posting graffiti about me (!) — you spend more time on NO711 than I do.”
Given Matthews’s history with EV Grieve and his commenters, it’s tempting to see East Village Today as a snide parody site authored by an outcast seeking revenge. But while Matthews admits that the tone of EV Grieve “was kind of an inspiration to start this and create something that had a different tone,” he also insists, “I’ve tried to really not link it up in any way so that people see it as the flipside, the anti EV Grieve.”
So was it just a coincidence that both sites posted about the New York Sports Club yesterday, each taking laughably opposite tones?
It’s hard to believe East Village Today’s promise to photograph 51 Astor from “as many different angles as I can, until I run out of angles” wasn’t a dig at EV Grieve’s repeated posts about the building. And it’s hard not to read East Village Today’s wide-eyed wonder as a thumbing of the nose at EV Grieve’s tendency toward beer-soaked nostalgia. “I think people are older and they’re missing their youth,” Matthews opined of such attitudes. He, for one, doesn’t pine after the squalor and drug addiction evident in the Clayton Patterson photographs that Vice reprinted this week. “You shouldn’t have to have entire sections of the city have all the money pulled out of them and decay and literally fall apart to create this area that people then want to move into to and live this life on the edge,” he said.
Whether or not his Pollyanna act is meant to be the “anti EV Grieve,” Matthews says it has changed his outlook. “I will say that over the months of doing this, I find that it has become a lot easier for me to be positive in just regular things,” he revealed. “I suppose that’s not so suprising, that’s part of the whole ‘make the path by walking’ philosophy.”
Still, he’s in no position to ignore the economic realities of his neighborhood. He acknowledges that it has become “unaffordable, rent keeps going up,” and he may have to leave soon. “I can see moving out within a year, but I could also see in a year I’m still here.”
In the meantime, he remains in the East Village… today!